Softball players wear hearts on sleeves for Rylee

A teal heart with the number 88 shows support for 11-year-old Rylee Abbuhl.

The Fusion and Fusion Fire traveling softball teams with Rylee Abbuhl.

PHOTOS PROVIDED

Local softball players are wearing their hearts on their sleeves in honor of a Stark County girl who loves the game and impacted them through her strength and passion.

Rylee Abbuhl has many connections to the 14u traveling team, Fusion, according to pitcher and catching coach James Holder, of Dalton.

For these teams, players not only form a bond with their teammates, but they become fast friends with teams they play against.

The pitcher who just turned 11 has been fighting central nervous system failure. Fusion Head Coach Antonio Guillan, who taught Abbuhl how to pitch, was so moved by the young player’s fight that he came up with an idea to show support – and everyone quickly got on board.

According to a GoFundMe. com page: “Calling all Rylee’s Warriors (Faith over Fear),” Abbuhl is terminally ill. “At this point the doctors are focused on Rylee’s quality of life versus quantity of life,” the post states. “To meet Rylee in any setting is to love her, she is a friend to all and her sense of humor will have you laughing until it hurts.”

The description on the fundraiser, which is organized by Katie Fisher, on behalf of Abbuhl’s mom, Lindsey, notes that the young girl’s health continues to decline and although she fights courageously she needs prayers and support. Donations through the GoFundMe are to help her mother who had to cut back her hours at work to be there for Rylee and also to help offset medical expenses, the post states. Last week, more than $3,600 had been raised toward a goal of $5,000.

“Rylee is the most kind hearted person you will ever meet,” the GoFundMe de-scription states. “She loves everything softball, especially pitching and Notre Dame. She loves music and books and her jokes will have you laughing until you cry. She is obsessed with Reba McEntire but also has a true love for all music. Rylee is an amazing little girl that reminds you what true friendship is about.”

Last month, Abbuhl, who wishes to be a college softball player, had her dream come true. Cross-town softball rivals Walsh and Malone universities teamed up to play a scrimmage Feb. 26, at the Hall of Fame Fitness Center. Abbuhl threw out the first pitch as her softball travel team watched in support, according to a post on Walsh University’s website.

“It has been amazing to see how Walsh, Malone and the entire softball community have rallied around Rylee and her story,” Walsh Softball Head Coach Anna Ball said in a post at walsh.edu. “Our united goal has been to give Rylee a dream softball day and to show her just how much of a sisterhood the softball community is. We are proud to be a part of a community that always uplifts and supports people especially during times of need. Thank you to everyone who has helped make this day possible and to give Rylee a dream day.”

Abbuhl met with each team’s players and coaches. Abbuhl watched the game from a chair on the first base side and when Walsh was on defense, the Cavalier pitching coach worked with the young softball player to help call the pitches.

Recently, the local Fusion team, which is coached by Antonio Guillan, had a scrimmage against Rylee Abbuhl’s 12u team, Fusion Fire, and anyone who had not previously met the then-10-year-old, was instantly won over.

“I had been hearing about her story,” Holder said. “It’s really cool to see her interact with both of the teams.”

Holder’s two daughters, Peyton Neiger, 12, and Mykayla Neiger, 14, play on the teams, along with a player from Apple Creek and several are from the Massillon and Perry Township area.

Besides Guillan knowing Abbuhl for years, an umpire – affectionately known as “Umpire Wayne” who has two daughters who play, umped all of Abbuhl’s games and has an “unbreakable bond” with the young pitcher, Holder said.

Guillan got the ball rolling to have a teal heart with Abbuhl’s number, 88, printed on his team’s shirts. He and Holder hope other local teams will do the same. They have been in contact with the Dalton Youth Athletic Association about the recreation teams 8u to 14u considering adding the design in honor of Abbuhl to their jerseys or shirts.

“We’re Rylee’s warriors,” Holder said. “We’re wearing Rylee on our sleeve.”

A benefit tournament has been planned in Abbuhl’s honor April 30-May 2. Rylee’s Warriors Tournament for 10u and 12u girls fastpitch softball teams will be at Plain Local Lady Eagles Home Fields, 3829 Guilford Ave. NW, Canton. Concessions, benefit shirts, raffle baskets and more are planned. Proceeds go toward the Abbuhl family for medical and living expenses. For more information, contact Tim Lucas at 330-604-0110.

Unfortunately, Abbuhl was not able to play in the scrimmage a few weeks ago so she watched the game – but she certainly made her presence known encouraging the players and talking to them. She was preparing to travel to Texas A&M University the next day where she had been invited to throw out the first pitch and her friends plied her with questions.

“When we got to the field the coach said that Rylee wouldn’t be playing because she wasn’t strong enough, she wasn’t feeling well, but she was coming,” Holder recalled. “When she did show up, she sat in the dugout. She was talking to all the girls as they were on the bench. After the game she came out and we took pictures. Everybody swarmed her and talked to her.”

Holder said Abbuhl’s peers and mother seem supportive of the idea of recognizing her by the design on their uniforms.

“They love it,” Holder said.

Guillan also put a heart with Rylee’s number on the mound and he lifted up the mound and presented it to her after the scrimmage.

“She is the sweetest little girl,” Holder said earlier this month following the scrimmage.

“She’s always got a smile on her face. She says she doesn’t worry about this. She wants to get back on that field and play.”

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